St. Louis Blues assistant coach and former Windsor Spitfire Steve Ott meets with reporters at the WFCU Centre, July 25, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

‘The dream has finally come true’

In a darkened hockey arena, the retired number of a former Windsor Spitfire hangs, though the player it honours may not think that is the only highlight of his career.

Like every young man and woman who puts on the pads and smacks a puck with a hockey stick, they dream of one day skating around the ice hoisting the Stanley Cup. Steve Ott, who grew up in Lakeshore, did not necessarily achieve that goal as a player. He did so as a coach.

Ott returned to the Windsor Spitfires this week, ahead of a scheduled appearance at Lakeshore’s Atlas Tube Centre on Sunday. He will bring in the most famous trophy in professional sports and keep it on public display. Even though the 36-year-old Ott never won the Stanley Cup as an NHL player, the feeling is just as sweet as an assistant coach of the world champion St. Louis Blues.

“It starts at a young age. You dream about winning the Stanley Cup. This was my personal dream to hoise this thing,” Ott told reporters Thursday at the WFCU Centre. “I never got to do it as an NHL player, but to do it as an NHL coach means just as much.”

Ott was born in Prince Edward Island, but he grew up in Stoney Point, which is now a part of Lakeshore. He played his junior hockey with the junior-C Belle River [now Lakeshore] Canadiens, then moved up to the Windsor Spitfires, where he played from 1999 to 2002.

He had been drafted in the first round by the Dallas Stars in 2000, but throughout his playing career with the Stars, Buffalo Sabres, Blues and the Detroit Red Wings, Ott never made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. It wasn’t until he retired and the Blues hired him for their front office in 2017 that things changed. Ott was an associated coach whose perch was in the press box, but when the Blues had the worst record in the league this past Christmas, a shakeup was needed. Craig Berube was named head coach, and he moved Ott down to ice level to help coach the forwards.

“We were in last place in the league at that time. No one was proud, it was embarrassing, quite frankly,” said Ott. “We knew we had a great team, but once the guys began to play for each other, once they started to see the belief in the system with the guy beside them, that’s exactly what the turnaround was all about.”

The Blues fought back, made the playoffs, then defied the odds by beating the Boston Bruins for their first Cup title since they joined the NHL in 1967.

The number 14 has been retired by the Spitfires, and Ott shares that honour with Adam Henrique and Ed Jovanovski, who also moved on to successful NHL careers. While Ott is grateful for the time and experience the Spitfires had given him, he nevertheless looks forward to Sunday, when a crowd of people will have their eyes on the Cup.

“To see the smiles on the faces, I’m just elated. The dream has finally come true,” said Ott.